Samurai are pretty awesome. That much is a given. If you are a fan of the samurai then popular culture has provided you with a wealth of different ways to appreciate those sword-wielding warriors of honor. From the very peaks of supposed high culture to the most earthbound depths of “lowbrow entertainment” you will be able to find a way to watch, read about, or play these historical figures whose time was relatively brief but whose cultural relevance appears to be permanent.
However, as much fun as this cultural ubiquity can be for fans it can also be a danger for creators attempting to add something fresh to the already burgeoning cannon of samurai literature and art. So much has already been done and said. This problem is further compounded when one realizes that so many of these stories revolve around the same thematic narrative: insulted honor and the resulting desire for revenge.
The story of the dishonored warrior seeking vengeance is to the samurai what quests and damsels are to stories of medieval knights. This is not to say that these creators and their work are somehow unoriginal or redundant – the highly codified nature of the samurai ethos almost demands these types of tales as they are the most obvious forms of conflict for a writer to drawn upon – but it does make it difficult for a new story to grab the attention of the public when juxtaposed to all that has come before.
This is the first obstacle that Samurai’s Blood, a new miniseries from Image about three friends on a journey for revenge, has to overcome: the quest for finding authenticity in a well-traveled genre. The second impediment that the book must somehow neutralize is an extension of the first: how do creators overcome the first obstacle when by necessity the premier issue of a series is all about setup and exposition, thus fueling a reader’s potential belief that this is “just another revenge story.” It is clear from reading issue one of the series that creators Wiseman and Benaroya are very aware of these concerns and that they address them in a way that many readers will find competent and satisfactory.
The first way Samurai’s Blood attempts to deal with reticent readers is the price tag. A fan may not be to willing to spend four dollars on a new book that might just be a derivative story that has been written in slightly different ways countless time before, but for a buck, that might be worth the risk.
Additionally the creator’s excellent use of pace drives the story swiftly past its most redundant parts. Rather than spend the entire first issue establishing the noble-but- doomed leader whose death drives the quest for revenge, the honorable head of the Sanjo Clan is executed by his traitorous retainers by page seven. This is a risk that Wiseman and Benaroya are taking. For fans unfamiliar with the tropes of the samurai genre this decision to accelerate the opening runs the risk of making the story seem underdeveloped and rushed. Why would we care about the death of character whose end comes so swiftly?
However, the gamble that the creators take pays off. Instead of feeling rushed, the story’s pacing allows us to get to the point quicker, the preface is done and the actual story can begin. This process additionally brings the reader out of the roll of passive viewer and into the realm of collaborative participant. Consequently, we enter the creative space by feeling in the blanks of parts left unexplored by the creators. Without extensive exposition or background the creators give enough clues with a few expertly illustrated panels for the readers to understand who Lord Sanjo is and why his death is significant. This device is very reminiscent of the style used by Japanese manga creators; broad significance conveyed within a limited visual scope.
It remains to be determined whether Samurai’s Blood will rise to a position of significance in the cannon of warrior tales or fade into the periphery of the genre like many that have come before. Yet if the first issue is any indication of the future, it is clear that the creators have proven that they are at least self-aware of the obstacles they face and have taken direct steps to meet the challenge. They may not be successful but it is an effort worthy of a samurai.